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What I Learned About Friendship After Losing Friends Due to My Chronic Illness

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Since first struggling with this illness several years ago, I have lost my fair share of friends. It’s unfortunate, yes, and at times it was very painful. I have learned from these experiences the qualities I want in a friend, and the qualities I want to personally demonstrate in my relationships. I think most people want companionship, friendship and to be liked. These things used to be so important to me. I really cared what others thought and how I presented myself mattered. I didn’t as much care about the quality of friendships, but the quantity. You know the girl, the girl who looks like she has it all together on the outside and who has all these shallow friendships. Yeah. That used to be me.

When I first started having symptoms, I felt truly that my world was falling apart. I didn’t know how to explain what was happening to me, and would go from doctor to doctor without getting any answers. In that time throughout the year I would lose one friend after the other. They were people who I thought were understanding and I had been there for. It made the time incredibly difficult.

I remember one day, I was on the phone with a friend and she told me how negative I was being. I will never forget that. It is strange how one phrase or something someone says can affect us individually, and for me that did. So here are some things to do or say when someone you love is struggling with their chronic illness:

Don’t compare. It is hard enough when you have lived a healthy life before and now your life is drastically different than it used to be. What we need is encouragement, not someone comparing how we used to be to how we are now.

Sometimes saying sorry makes things worse. Sometimes, depending on the person and the situation, saying sorry can be meaningful and sympathetic. But sometimes someone with chronic illness will feel that they don’t need your sympathy. It honestly depends on the situation and person. For me, when I hear sorry a lot from people, I know it comes from a good place and that the other person doesn’t know what to say.

Loving someone who is chronically ill is tough and there are no magic words to say. So, please don’t call us negative. There’s that old saying that until you walk in another person’s shoes, do not judge a man. That is so true. You see, oftentimes I can look “fine” on the outside. My disease is one of those called invisible illnesses. But on the inside I am screaming from pain. On good days I can walk around the grocery store, on other I am limping. There are times when we are going to be “negative” and it is OK.

Before I became chronically ill, I had no idea how to best support someone with a disease. Most people don’t. Learning about the disease your loved one has will help you understand it more and enable you to be more supportive. Be there. Be there for the joys, the hard times and the tragic times. Try to be there as much as you can, and take care of yourself in the process. There are no easy fix-its when dealing with chronic illness, and a lot of times things will get worse over time.

Love us where we are at and we will try to do the same. Honestly, some of the best friends I have had have taken me to doctor appointments and procedures, held my hand, prayed with me, brought me a Sprite when I wasn’t feeling well or just offered to be there or get me what I need. They knew they couldn’t fix my disease but were just there. It’s strange that in losing a majority of friends, I learned how to become a good one.

Although I lost some friends, I have gained new ones. I also learned that it was the quality of friendships that’s much more important than the quantity.

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Photo via ArthurHidden on Getty Images

Originally published: January 22, 2018
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